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Management Consulting: The Art of Giving Advice
THE LIFE SCIENTIST WHO BECAME A MANAGEMENT
Partner, Bain and Co.,
Age: 37 years
A day in the life of a consultant: Most Mondays begin as early as 4.30 a.m., as Mandviwala catches
an early morning flight to a client site. Once there, the day is spent working with the company, in
meetings and workshops, or in interviews with their management. Dinner is with the team and clients,
and the conversation is a mix of work and other stuff.
Typically, the bulk of the week is spent travelling, to destinations in India like Delhi, Chennai and
Bengaluru and sometimes, to international destinations in Southeast Asia like Bangkok, for internal
On Fridays, Mandviwala tries, like most other consultants at Bain, to make it back to the office.
‘Fridays at Bain’ is an initiative for teams to reconnect and time is spent in meetings at the office,
brainstorming on projects, reviewing the approach and discussing solutions and recommendations.
Her years in consulting have taken her from talking to tractor buyers in rural districts in Karnataka
to a consulting stint as the guest of a royal family in West Asia. ‘When you sit in a boardroom, it is
not about making slides and presentations. It is about having been on the ground and talking to people
– that’s what makes companies actually listen to you,’ she says.
What she loves most about the job: ‘The opportunity to be able to create impact fairly quickly
through changes you suggest, since you work with people at the CXO (top) level. Also, being able to
do lots of different things – in different industries and different geographies. You also get to work
with a bunch of really smart and ambitious people.’
What she would like to change: The constant travel can be challenging.
Work-life balance: ‘This whole concept of work-life balance is made out to be a zero-sum game.
That is, if there is more work, there is less of life, and vice versa. Work is meant to enrich life. For
me, at any given time, whatever is most important gets done. If there is work stuff I need to do over
the weekend, I do it, and the same way, if I need to take a personal call during work hours, I do.’
B.Sc Life Sciences Presidency College, Kolkata 1984
Monitor Consulting, Mumbai
Bain and Co., Mumbai
Principal, and now partner 2009 to present
THE SECRET TO GETTING THERE
There are some classic routes to becoming a management consultant. Graduate from the world’s bestknown colleges and business schools for campus placements to consulting companies. Specialize.
Consulting companies often recruit sector experts, with PhDs or with job experience in a particular
vertical – like supply chain, risk analysis, etc.
Check the careers section on the websites of management consultant firms like McKinsey and Co.
(http://www.mckinsey.com/careers/join_us/interview_prep for more detailed advice.)
EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT MAKING MONEY IN
Management consulting pays very well. Salaries vary depending on which firm you join but
here are some industry estimates:
Entry level: ₹15–35 lakh a year
Manager/case team leader: ₹40–50 lakh a year
Principal level: approximately ₹75 lakh–1 crore a year
Partner level: Upwards of ₹1.5 crore a year
THE SEVEN SKILLS YOU NEED TO SUCCEED IN CONSULTING
1. You need to be intelligent.
2. You need to be able to draw insights from data. To cut the data differently and look at
patterns which were being missed.
3. You need to be a very empathetic listener, to listen and understand your client’s
4. It helps to come across as an interesting person.
5. Since consultants are in the business of providing advice, you need to communicate in
an articulate fashion.
6. After solving the problem, you also need to convince the client to come on board with
7. You should be willing to put in the effort to constantly connect and network with new
FOUR REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD WORK IN CONSULTING
1. You will have a jet-setting lifestyle with lots of travel, within India and abroad.
2. Working in consulting significantly improves your job prospects – even if you leave consulting,
you can always join client firms.
3. You learn a lot about different industries. It is quite usual for a consultant to work with two or
three different industries.
4. Early in your career, you interact with senior people at client firms. You get a chance to learn
from them as well as develop your skills in communicating with senior managers.
WHAT NOBODY TELLS YOU ABOUT BEING IN CONSULTING
Needs a lot of travel and involves living out of a suitcase.
Getting to the top (making partner) can be tough – many consultants choose to leave instead, after
five–ten years or even fifteen years.
The work hours are long. With that and the travel, there is often no work-life balance.
FIVE BOOKS EVERY ASPIRING CONSULTANT SHOULD READ
There are literally hundreds of books on strategy, leadership and organizational structure that wouldbe consultants should read. Here are some recommendations:
1. The Competitive Advantage of Nations by Michael Porter: The godfather of all modern day
consultants, Michael Porter revolutionized consulting. He is best known for the famous technique
of the famous SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities, strengths) analysis framework. A
must-read for all consultants.
2. The Firm by Duff McDonald: A tell-all exposé on McKinsey and company. Fascinating
3. Case Interview Secrets by Victor Cheng: If you are looking to land a job as a consultant, this is
a great book to read. It has tips for problem-solving, interviewing, presentations and how to ace
the case discussion interviews.
4. The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto: Always recommended as the Bible of good writing
for all consultants, this book can be dense and detailed at times. Still, it’s a good read for anyone
wanting to dive deep into consulting.
5. The Mind of a Strategist, by Kenichi Ohmae: A former McKinsey management guru explores
the ways in which the strategist must think, the key principles and thought patterns that realworld strategists have used to move their companies forward in Japan and throughout the world.
Films/TV Series Every Consultant Should See
1. Up in the Air: Starring George Clooney as a high-flying consultant.
2. House of Lies: A TV series on consulting, based on the 2005 memoir by Martin Kihn, a
consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton.
Online Resources for the Enthusiastic Management Consultant
firstconsulting.com: Set up by an ex-McKinsey partner, this site features case discussions,
interviews, rankings of strategy consulting firms.
McKinsey & Co.
BCG, Bain & Co.
Oliver Wyman Accenture
The Talent Managers
‘Human resources are like natural resources; they’re often buried deep.
You have to go looking for them, they’re not just lying around on the
surface. You have to create the circumstances where they show
As businesses grow more complex and more automated, their human element becomes even more
important. Read here about Manish Sabharwal, an entrepreneur who has created India’s best known
human resources outsourcing company. Also read about Srikrishna Pai, an engineer who started off
sceptical about working in HR, but grew to love it. What are the essential skills an aspiring HR man
needs, how much money can he earn, what books and movies should he look at – learn all this in the
The Emperor of Jobs: Manish Sabharwal
Using Technology to Manage People: Ramakrishna V.
The Secret to Getting There
Everything You Need to Know about Making Money in HR
Four Skills Needed to Succeed in HR/Talent Management
Why You Should Work in Human Resources
What No One Tells You about Working in Human Resources
Three HR Myths
Seven Books Every Talent Management/HR Professional Should Read
Nine Interview Questions Every HR Person Should Have in His Repertoire
Online Resources for the Aspiring HR Professional
THE EMPEROR OF JOBS
Founder, Team Lease
Age: 50 years
‘We employ one Indian every five minutes’, says Manish Sabharwal, who runs staffing company
Team Lease. Sabharwal and his college roommate partner, Ashok Reddy, set up this staffing company
for temporary labour in 2004. The company decided to diversify into vocational training as well –
moving from employment to creating employability. Today, Team Lease has grown into a ₹2,000crore turnover company; it has established vocational training colleges, and works with the central
and state government in training and employment. Much of Sabharwal’s time is spent interacting with
his various stakeholders – employers, students and the government.
‘My job involves bringing in senior people laterally from large organizations and building a
culture of performance, re-engineering processes and technology, and finally selling and building the
brand. So essentially, talent, operations and sales.
Best part of the job: It is the intersection of being in a company that is fun, profitable and good for
India. I had worked for a manufacturing company before going to business school and while that was
profitable and good for India, it was not much fun. I know a cola company franchisee operation well;
they are fun and profitable but not good for India (at least that is what my dentist thinks, and I agree).
Team Lease is a unique confluence of being a high-growth business with a huge addressable market
that solves an important national problem.
Worst part of the job: The fact that we have grown so large that I don’t know everybody who works
with us, that growing large means we often have to err on the side of structure (some days I call it
bureaucracy) and that growing large means we are less spontaneous or nimble about our feet than we
used to be.
Career advice: My advice to young people in choosing an industry or company is only one filter;
choose something that is high-growth. India’s staffing, skilling and education industry are going to be
high-growth for a long time; only 80 per cent of India’s infrastructure of opportunity of 2030 is yet to
be born. The skills to be successful are different at different stages; in the early years, functional
skills like sales, marketing, finance, HR, etc. are needed, but over time, all that matters is courage,
persistence, curiosity, teamwork and patience.
Success mantra: A world that is changing fast is a world inherited by learners. Professionals must
stop living on their education from years ago and read much more than they used to; fast food is a
poor substitute for the vitamins and minerals that only come from reading books. And not only fiction;
the best book about strategic alliances is the biography of the Duke of Marlborough by Winston
Churchill; the best book to understand creativity is Agony and Ecstasy by Irving Stone; the best book
to understand why India is poor is India after Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha. But my all-time
favourite business book is Strategy: A History of by Lawrence Freedman – it is an amazing look at
how strategy (the art of getting things done) has evolved from the military and politics to business.
B.Com SRCC, Delhi University
Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, US 1996
India Life – Pension and Payroll outsourcing Founder 1997–01
Team Lease – HR Outsourcing
Founder 2004 to present
USING TECHNOLOGY TO MANAGE PEOPLE
Senior Vice President and (now) director, IDFC,
Age: 36 years
Ramakrishna says you can’t do HR by intuition, you need to know the science behind it.
‘Initially, I felt HR, as a discipline, is unstructured and abstract and might not work for someone
like me with a structured background,’ he says. But he was swiftly and happily proved wrong, he
says. Whether it is determining what motivates employees or designing a system of bonus payouts,
every aspect of HR has a science behind it, he says.
A day at work: Ramakrishna is at office by 9 a.m. on all weekdays except Wednesdays (when he
begins the day at 7 a.m. at the Kalina grounds, practising cricket as part of IDFC’s corporate cricket
team). Ramakrishna, who had worked earlier as a specialist in compensation and benefits, has
recently started working on setting up processes for the IDFC Bank. The day is full of meetings. ‘My
role is to consolidate the efforts of teams like HR and the core services teams that are working on
setting up the bank,’ says Ramakrishna. He has three-four meetings every day with different vendors
for hiring, selection of premises, etc. Work wraps up by eight or nine in the evening. But Ramakrishna
carries on work-related calls during the forty-minute commute to his home in suburban Powai in
Most proud of: A project to automate the time office, which monitors the in-time and attendance of
workers, at the Hindustan Zinc plant in Debari.
‘There was a lot of resistance to automation,’ says Ramakrishna. He had been assigned this project
as a young manager in 2005, and completed it by getting the workmen involved. ‘We made a team,
involving one person from the time office, an old-timer who was proud of being able to use
computers, as well as supervisors from other departments,’ he says. The project went on to win a
gold medal from the CEO as part of a Six Sigma productivity improvement initiative, and was
deemed a huge success.
Interviewing candidates: ‘Tell me about a success at your last organization? Tell me about
something you failed at and why?’ are two questions Ramakrishna always asks. The answers to these
questions often give an insight into the person’s emotions, thoughts, and the way he gives credit to
other people, says Ramakrishna.
VNR Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering & Technology, 1999–
MBA – Human
T.A. Pai Management Institute, Manipal
Associate Manager, HR
Deputy Manager, HR
IDFC, Mumbai Vice President, Senior Vice President, Director, HR 2008 to present
THE SECRET TO GETTING THERE
A specialization in human resources helps. Such specializations are offered by most business schools,
including the specialist XLRI. This is generally at the postgraduate level.
EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT MAKING MONEY IN TALENT
MANAGEMENT AND HR
Starting salaries: Range from ₹8–15 lakh per annum
Senior levels: ₹18 lakh per annum to ₹35 lakh per annum, with variable bonuses
CEO in HR/Director levels: Range from ₹80 lakh per annum to ₹1.5 crore
FOUR SKILLS NEEDED TO SUCCEED IN HR/TALENT MANAGEMENT
1. Basic etiquette, like taking calls and responding immediately. Employees are your stakeholders;
if you are not always reachable and responsive to them, then you are not a good HR manager.
2. Good communication skills and the ability to keep things confidential, so that employees find
you approachable and are able to talk to you.
3. The ability to know your organization’s numbers – not just employee numbers but the numbers
for revenue sources.
4. The ability to study and understand the business and to help it grow. Going beyond recordkeeping, the ability to do analysis of attrition levels or diversity levels.
WHY YOU SHOULD WORK IN HR
You have an opportunity to have a huge impact on the company through the kind of
people you hire.
You get a chance to make a direct impact on the culture of the company through design
and implementation of performance evaluation, reward and employee benefit
You can early on play a strategic role in the company through managing and
There will always be a demand for this specialization, since dealing with people is a
core necessity for any organization.
WHAT NOBODY TELLS YOU ABOUT WORKING IN HR
1. It can be hard to make friends at work since you are constantly balancing the interest of the
employees with that of the company. People who receive bad assessments will dislike you. You
have to deal with unpopular activities like firing.
2. You may not have decision-making power in many employee-related matters. In such cases,
coordinating with functional and operational departments may sometimes become frustrating.
3. Because HR’s contribution to company profits is indirect and not easily quantifiable, HR may be
not always be given credit for their contribution to the company.
THREE HR MYTHS
1. That you can do HR by intuition, or by having studied psychology in your graduate programme.
This is not true. You need to study to know the science behind HR.
2. That HR professionals are mere MIS providers. With the right inputs and expertise, HR
professionals can be as important as the CFO/CTO of a company and become the right hand of
3. HR is often seen as a monolith, but in reality, there are a variety of roles. You could work in a
plant with unions, in training, in reward management, recruitment, or as a business partner.
NINE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS EVERY HR PERSON SHOULD BE PREPARED
Why do you want to work in HR?
Thinking back over your college years and your job experiences, have you ever helped to initiate
a change? What was the change and your role in making the change happen?
How did you motivate your team to succeed? How did you establish goals and priorities?
When you had someone in your team under-performing, what did you do to get that person to
How would you gauge whether a candidate is suitable for our company? What questions would
What do you believe is the role of the HR department in relation to the mission and strategies of
What would you measure to determine whether the HR department was doing an effective job
for the company?